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Is the end near? Moscow says stand down

  • Article by: ELLEN BARRY
  • New York Times
  • December 1, 2012 - 7:12 PM

 

MOSCOW

There are scattered reports of unusual behavior from across Russia's nine time zones.

Inmates in a women's prison near the Chinese border are said to have experienced a "collective mass psychosis" so intense that their wardens summoned a priest to calm them. In a factory town east of Moscow, panicked citizens stripped shelves of matches, kerosene, sugar and candles. A huge Mayan-style archway is being built -- out of ice -- on Karl Marx Street in Chelyabinsk in the south.

For those not schooled in New Age prophecy, there are rumors the world will end on Dec. 21, when a 5,125-year cycle known as the Long Count in the Mayan calendar supposedly comes to a close. Russia, a nation with a penchant for mystical thinking, has taken notice.

Moscow decided to put an end to the doomsday talk. The Ministry of Emergency Situations said Friday that it had access to "methods of monitoring what is occurring on the planet Earth," and that it could say with confidence that the world was not going to end in December. It acknowledged, however, that Russians were still vulnerable to "blizzards, ice storms, tornadoes, floods, trouble with transportation and food supply, breakdowns in heat, electricity and water supply."

Similar assurances have been issued in recent days by Russia's chief sanitary doctor, a top official of the Russian Orthodox Church and lawmakers from the State Duma.

"You cannot endlessly speak about the end of the world, and I say this as a doctor," said Leonid Ogul, a member of the Duma's environment committee. "Everyone has a different nervous system, and this kind of information affects them differently. Information acts subconsciously. Some people are provoked to laughter, some to heart attacks, and some -- to some negative actions."

Russia is not the only country to face this problem.

In France, the authorities plan to bar access to Bugarach Mountain in the south to keep out a flood of visitors who believe it is a sacred place that will protect a lucky few from the end of the world. The patriarch of Ukraine's Orthodox Church recently issued a statement assuring the faithful that "doomsday is sure to come," but that it will be provoked by the moral decline of mankind, not the "so-called parade of planets or the end of the Mayan calendar."

In Yucatan state in Mexico, which has a large Mayan population, most place little stock in end-of-days talk. Officials are planning a Mayan cultural festival on Dec. 21 to show that all will be well after that.

Throughout Russia there are reports about panicky buying. In Ulan-Ude, the capital of the Buryatiya region, citizens have reportedly been hoarding food and candles to survive a period without light, following instructions from a Tibetan monk called the Oracle of Shambhala, who has been described on some Russian TV broadcasts.

A similar account appeared in a local newspaper in the factory town of Omutninsk, about 700 miles east of Moscow.

Last week, lawmakers in Moscow addressed a letter to Russia's three main TV stations asking them to stop airing material about the prophecy.

"You get the sense that the end of the world is a commercial project," lawmaker Mikhail Degtyaryov told the newspaper Izvestiya. "Just look at how many swindlers are trying to make money on this affair."

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